From India losing half its side to spin for less than 50, to Todd Murphy looking like he has got Virat Kohli’s number, taking the former India captain’s wicket for the second time in as many Tests, to failing to make 150 having elected to bat first, it was a dismal day for India.
For Australia, it was one where fortunes fluctuated on a minefield of a pitch - Matt Kuhnemann got his first Test five-for, and his side started well with the bat before losing quick wickets towards the fag end, to be 156 for four at Stumps on day one of the third Border-Gavaskar Test in Indore.
In the end, the frazzled minds and tortured techniques from the Delhi Test looked like memories of a distant past as Usman Khawaja and Marnus Labuschagne battled hard to keep the visitor alive in the series, albeit with slices of luck.
Labuschagne was the one who benefited on two occasions: once, when he played on off a short delivery from Ravindra Jadeja (four for 63), but it turned out Jadeja had overstepped – and a second time, when on 7, he was struck on the front pad by Ravichandran Ashwin. It wasn’t given out on the field, and India chose not to refer since it had already lost two reviews off Jadeja’s bowling.
The three Indian spinners bowled 21 overs between them and gave away 70 for one wicket. Rohit Sharma eventually brought on one of his pacers, Umesh Yadav, in the 22nd over. That he had to revert to him on this pitch was testament to how well the Aussie top-order fared. Indian bowlers were guilty of not being accurate enough, perhaps over relying on the pitch to do the work.
Khawaja reached his 50 with a clip-through leg side cover off 102 balls. Khawaja looked to play straight, and with soft hands and did not go overboard with his use of the sweep and reverse-sweep. Labuschagne, at the other end, grafted it out and played forward for the large part to stitch a 96-run second wicket stand with Khawaja. But just when it seemed he had a measure of the variable bounce, he went back to a ball he should have gone forward to and was clean bowled by Jadeja for a 91-ball 31. Interestingly, Labuschagne had not scored a run off Jadeja for 20 balls before falling to him.
Khawaja, meanwhile, kept the scoreboard ticking, but with Australia 16 ahead, he swept Jadeja uppishly to find Shubman Gill at the mid-wicket fence! He fell for 60, and shortly after, Steven Smith, who looked fluent during his 26, was caught behind off Jadeja. But with Australia 47 ahead and Peter Handscomb and Cameron Green still at the crease, the series is alive and kicking.
Earlier, Rohit won the toss, chose to bat first and confirmed no place in the starting lineup for KL Rahul and Mohammed Shami. Gill and Umesh Yadav played in their stead.
The first signs of what to expect from this pitch surfaced on the first ball of the first over when Mitchell Starc kicked up a puff of dust where the ball landed and belted out a caught-behind appeal as Rohit had a tentative poke at a good length ball. There was a spike on the UltraEdge, but Australia had decided against reviewing it. Two balls later, Rohit got another reprieve when Smith did not go upstairs for a leg-before review. The ball-tracking would later flash three reds.
Rohit’s charmed life ended when left-arm spinner Kuhnemann, in his second Test, was summoned to bowl the sixth over of the day. Kuhnemann beat Rohit on the sweep with the fourth ball that pitched on middle and sped past off. He then got him stumped by trapping him in flight and turn off the last ball of the same over.
The young Queensland tweaker had his second wicket in eight balls when Gill edged a delivery, spinning prodigiously from middle to off, to Smith at first slip.
While batters need time in the middle to become accustomed to the turn and bounce in India, spinners can more confidently rely on muscle memory. So, it was the outstanding Nathan Lyon who found his groove, immediately ploughing that corridor outside off-stump and bamboozling Cheteshwar Pujara with one that kept low and spun square to crash into the stumps. Jadeja and Shreyas Iyer capitulated to spin as well, capping off a bizarre first hour of play during which India rode its luck and hit 26 from five overs of pace before veering to 46 for five, with Lyon getting two for five and Kuhnemann three for eight.
Kohli and KS Bharat offered brief resistance, adding 25 for the sixth wicket. Kohli played well for his 22, hitting two beautiful boundaries and sprinting ones and twos.
During his 52-ball stay, Kohli put on an exhibition on how to bat on a day one pitch that resembled a day-four dust bowl. He was disciplined against anything outside the line and played forward when he could. A boundary off Kuhnemann in the 14th over stood out for application and presence of mind. Kohli, aware that the odd balls were keeping low, went on the back foot and whipped a short ball through mid-wicket. However, with Lunch looming, Murphy and Lyon got rid of Kohli and Bharat to leave India reeling at 84 for seven.
Umesh entertained the crowd with two sixes and one four but was trapped leg-before by Kuhnemann, who finished with five for 16 from nine overs. India folded for a mere 109 within 30 minutes after Lunch.
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